Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

- ye bave

sticks. Here ye need never lack gold in your pocket brass in your faces! What for kneel ye, that woo the bunu goddess, at altars of red and black, where none are admitted but the bearers of burnt offerings ? here you may speculate your fill, and return again when the offerings are to be made-if ye have to receive them!

Metropolitan life was never so distinguished by the general luxury of its accompaniments as at the present day. Passing by the Magnates, who were always exalted, we find the middle classes associating in clubs of regal magnificence, and the costermonger repairing for his gin or “heavy” to a " palace." Amid this universal taste for the splendid and the convenient, where are we to look for the solitary exception? Where least we should expect it. The leaders of ton, the lofty of birth, the profuse of treasure, in pursuit of their pleasures gathered together in a stable yard, surrounded by a rascal rabble without let or modification save the possession of whole garments. Surely this is not a condition likely much longer to be suffered in a period of such enlightened refinement as this; better things are in store and cannot long be withheld. Why should there not be a Turf-Club established, not upon an exclusive principle, but, on the contrary, as liberal as the respectability of such a society would admit ? Even the Jockey Club is without a rendezvous in London. There cannot be a doubt that the members of that most influential sporting association would support and patronise any plan, having for its object the character of that great National Sport in behalf of which they are confederated in so honourable a league. It is true, that as a convenience for themselves they need not the establishment of any new Club, Brooks's, White's, and all the aristocratic trystings in St. James's bringing them together sufficiently for their individual purposes; but the cause would benefit by it, and that would be motive enough. What would operate as a more wholesome check upon the schemes got up at remote distances from the metropolis for Turf robbery and sporting cheats of all descriptions, than a focus where the sporting news from every district -would necessarily converge, while it would be canvassed and tested by those whose local knowledge would enable them to throw the fairest light upon all its bearings ? What could so surely advance the true objects of sporting as a rendezvous, where all its sons might meet as occasion permitted, either to propose their plans for the protection or furtherance of its interests, or merely for the purposes of good fellowship? I offer the hint, and how sincerely it will rejoice me to see it taken up by those who have but to propose it to ensure its success !

I have alluded to the Jockey Club, and the great influence possessed by it—there cannot be a better opportunity than, ere I take my leave of Tattersall's, to give expression to an opinion which very many

of the best friends of the Turf entertain in common with myself, upon the system pursued by that distinguished society in regulating the leading business of racing, which is immediately within its controul, and which is made a precedent for Turf practice in every part of the kingdom. At Newmarket the power possessed by it over all racing details is despotic: the heath rented from the duke of Portland is exclusively under its dominions. There if wrong exist, it does so by voluntary assent: there the Jockey Club possesses unlimited authority,

and all should be regulated so as to confer a local dignity, and diffuse a wholesome example. It is much to be regretted that, excellent as the laws of racing emanating from it are admitted to be, they do not include enactments for preventing mischief as well as suggesting remedies. Why does not a rule like this preface the Racing Code? “No persons shall be permitted to race a horse, or horses, at Newmarket, either in their own names, or those of other individuals, who are known to practise any unlawful calling; neither shall menial servants be allowed to start any horses named by themselves, or any one for them, under any circumstances whatever.” This is not only warranted, but enforced by the legitimate purpose of racing, which is two-fold, to minister to the service of an important branch of rural economy, and to afford a sound and healthy mean of public relaxation. How is the first of these likely to be promoted by allowing professional gamblers ---men actually under indictment as public rogues and cheats—to purchase horses and run them “any how,” according to their several necessities,-or the latter, I would beg to know, to be accomplished, by exbibiting the nobles of the land engaged in a contest for money with their own or their friends' domestics? Is it supposed that I am putting an extreme case? There was one race only at Newmarket in the present month, the list of which contained not less than six horses, the property of persons precisely in the condition of those above specified. What magic can have brought it to pass that, at the spot of all others in the land where the aristocracy “most do congregate," there we find realized all that the wildest visions of democracy ever “ raved" of when she dreamt ?

No more eventful or instructive volume could be compiled than that which should contain a faithful record of the lives of those, who, during the last twenty years, have fretted their hour" at Hyde Park Corner, and “now are seen no more.” Over that period my memory extends; and how many a rise and fall does it furnish the sad experience! Akin as the sublime and the ridiculous have been pronounced, they are far from being as nearly related as the pathetic and absurd. More than in any condition of fortune, this will be found in the casualities of sporting life. Many of its changes are so like the tricks of legerdemain, that they out-herod any thing attempted by modern fiction. How often have I seen just before the Derby day, standing in the midst of the busy crowds at Tattersall's, and looking as if he had fallen from the clouds, a little fat roué, the picture of dissipation and devilment, well known upon the Irish Turf--though his racing fame had never extended here. His name was Irwin—"Commodore Irwin,” as he was always designated,—but for what cause I am not able to state, unless from his having run away from home when a boy, and passing some years in the capacity of cabin-boy in a merchantman.

He had passed through all the vicissitudes of a gamblers life, in all their extremes, beyond arithmetical calculation. To-day you meet him in the streets of Dublin, in rags, and without shoe or stocking; to-morrow, driving his coach and four. This is not meant figuratively, but as the plain

An episode in his career, for the truth of which I pledge myself, will tolerably illustrate the affinity in sporting life between the pathetic and absurd.

A long run of ill luck had produced more than the ordinary wretchedness with which it was generally accompanied. Not only had it left him pennyless, but he had given a bill of sale for his furniture, and his family were without a bed to lie on-chair or table—the last indeed no great loss, inasmuch as they were without any thing to put upon it. In fact, they were in a state of actual starvation, for credit and the commodore had long ceased to be on visiting terms, when the Sligo races (in the neighbourhood of which town his “place” was situated) arrived. Thitherward he instinctively steered, as he said himself,“ with a tear in his eye like a widow's pig.” The races lasted two days, and upon the morning of the third, while his miserable wife stood watching for his return, and vainlystriving to appease her famishing children that were crying for bread (or rather potatoes), suddenly there hove in sight the most unearthly cavalcade that ever presented itself to a distressed mother. First came a hearse and four, driven by her lord, quite as drunk as any of that degree were seen since the establishment of the axiom. Beside him sate a piper (ditto) in a winding sheet, performing Patrick's day, with an emphasis known only to drone and chaunter. On the roof of the “ Body Bus” were seated several friends of the family, in corresponding states of elevation, while two mourning coaches and pair, full in and out, closed the procession. The commodore had returned with his pockets lined with prize money, the hearse and trimmings being the spolia opima of a sporting undertaker whom he had turned inside out, and, in his own phrase, “ left as clane as a horse's head at a bonfire.”

The commodore had a contemporary (as far merely as his eccentricities went) on the Irish Turf, of whom a word en passant. Lieutenant Holman, the blind traveller, did not select a pursuit more whimsically in reference to natural fitness, than did Fitzmaurice Caldwell when he pitched upon the Turf. From the first of his connexion with racing he possessed no more personal controul than if his body had belonged to the Grand Lama of Thibet. He was a sore stumbling-block to the aphorism that asserts “ There never was a will but there was a way." God knows he was wilful enough, but as for a way, he could not accomplish more in that line than the rock of Gibraltar. In fact, he was more than half a fossil, the gout having turned his larger moiety into chalk. It is not a subject to treat so lightly, for the agonies I have seen him endure were enough to melt a heart of stone; indeed, how he bore them I know not, except that the greater proportion of him was stone.

It was under one of those tremendous paroxysms, of which I bave spoken, that I saw him exhibit in a fashion that would have provoked a guffaw under the ribs of death. During one of the Curragh meetings he was seated in his phaeton, and I marked his writhing, while the gout was seething his marrow like a red iron. It was terrible to look upon him ! the sweat of agony ran boiling down his temples. I gazed upon him as I might upon the victim of an auto da fe: it made my

flesh creep—when suddenly I heard him roar out? “Where's my pony ?—wil nobody put me on my pony? and he swore as those alone can swear who have practised under a boatswain (he too was of the sea-service). The motive for the outcry was that he might accompany a favourite horse to the starting-post, the horses of his phaeton having been taken off. Presently after an energy of speech which I had never heard equallid, " the steed was brought.”. Already some of his considerate friends had lifted him out of his carriage, and having hoisted him into the saddle—with his face to the tail, they bestowed a few such complimentary visits upon the galloway's crupper and ribs that sent him with yards square before the wind, at twenty knots an hour. Cruikshank would have thrown away his pencil in despair had he attempted the scene that followed. Never shall I forget it. As he flew past me, I made a rush at the animal's head, and I should have succeeded but that the sight was too much for me-all that was ever imagined of the absurd since the creation was there passing me at one fell swoop. My limbs refused their office, I was rivetted to the spot, and exploded in a delirium of laughter that wellnigh slew me where I stood! and oh ! the fiery glance of the distracted podagrist ! the scowl of Medusa compared with it would have been a seraph's smile. On, on he dashed, swearing, praying, gnashing his teeth-clenching his hands, lurching from side to side, making inhuman faces and horrific gestures till all was lost in distance. How he preserved his seat was miraculous. One of the Curragh boys was at my side as the Captain galloped past -at first he seemed to expect a spill every moment, but as he continued his course still keeping his saddle the native thus soliloquized

-“ By the good daylight I believe he's used to it-ah! by Jesus it's not the first time that he rode with his behind before.

As I never enter Tattersall’s, so neither can I write the word, without recalling the memory of him with whom all my sporting associations are so intimately blended ; in whom I possessed the most valued of my companions, and lostithe warmest of my friends,-poor Mytton! To all the sporting world his name is familiar as a household word, and his eccentricities are quoted when any thing without a parallel needs illustration. Though cut off in the flower of his prime at little more than half the span allotted to ordinary life, he had lived more, probably, than any man who had counted a century. When his companions and equals in years were boys, and treated as such, young Mytton was already invested with the prerogatives of manhood; premature in all physical properties, he had beside an unlimited command of money, and with an ardour of temperament blown into a flame with every excitement, he was absolute and uncontrolled disposer of his own will. That the career of such a spirit should have been erratic is not the wonder,—that it should have been ought else would have been a miracle. Few events of his extraordinary life were unknown to me; we were of similar age, of similar pursuits, and, I fear, too similar in constitutional disposition. From boyhood we had been associates, and in the last bitter days of his trial he selected me as the depositary of his sorrows—may I hope that in the zeal with which I sought to soothe them I was not altogether unsuccessful ?

When the event did arrive, which all who valued him truly could not regret, I prepared the materials which I possessed so largely, with the purpose of compiling a memoir of his public Sporting Life. While this was in progress, I thought in courtesy I could not do less than intimate to one whose affection had followed him from the cradle to the coffin, what I had in contemplation. The answer to that communication decided me to proceed no further. The wish expressed was that all might be suffered to rest in oblivion. To me it was a sacred command. Since then his story has been brought before the world prominently, by one who had many opportunities of knowing him in the noon of his career. This would make it an act of ultra-fas. tidiousness to continue a silence that has so long prevented me from doing the last justice to the memory of one I valued well. How few that have read the narrative of his almost fabulous exploits could imagine the distracted actor a man of elegant manners, finished education, refined imagination, and a heart susceptible of the noblest sentiments ?-Yet such was Mytton, when himself, beyond any with whom I have been intimately familiar in my passage through life. He was the best classic-not professional, I ever met; but how and where he collected his lore I never could learn. He was perfectly conversant with history and Belles Lettres, and I do not think there was a verse in Scripture to which he could not have assigned its proper chapter. With the frame of a Hercules, and a constant exertion of his amazing physical powers, he had all his natural rudeness in perfect obedience -it never, even to the last, succeeded in neutralizing the gentleness of the gentleman, whenever it pleased him to assume his better part. Of this, his handwriting was a remarkable instance. I have some of his letters written a few months before his death, in which the characters are as finely traced and as beautifully moulded as if they were the crow-quill studies of a girl of sixteen. The chord which had been too early and too violently stretched, there is no doubt, had long yielded in part to its uennatural tension, before it gave way wholly, and snapped for ever. At what period his mind first became disordered, there is no line of judgment to guide us; working against an adamantine constitution (the progress of his mental infirmity altogether regulated by his physical condition), the shocks to which his mind yielded finally must have been many and terrible. The first time I had cause to fear his reason had become actually impaired, was during a visit to Halston, in the summer of 1830. It was noon of an August day when I arrived, and we strolled together to the gardens. He spoke of my fondness for fruit, and insisted upon gathering for me all the rarest and best that the hothouses contained. This he did by tearing off whole branches from the most valuable trees. I knew him too well to remonstrate, and, as the only chance of stopping the mischief, drew him from the spot as speedily and indifferently as I could. After lunch he proposed a drive in the grounds, that I might give my opinion of a roan harness-horse that he had recently purchased. It was accordingly brought round in a light pony phaeton, a low-wheeled double-bodied carriage, the front division of which he occupied as driver, and into the other I handed his beautiful wife, who was to be our companion. I was prepared for quick work, his pace being nothing new to me; but for what did occur I certainly was not provided. We started at a gallop, which he urged into a frantic speed by every possible excitement of voice and whip. We flew through the park, reached the high road, and pursued it to Ellesmere at a rate never attempted, I am sure, by any locomotive means before. How we escaped being dashed to pieces is to be classed among the other miracles that safely may be ascribed to his road-work, who twice leaped a turnpike-gate

« НазадПродовжити »